Across the US by Bus
Traveling by bus is not my preferred method of travel, but when health conditions prevent travel by air; that leaves driving, buses, trains, and boats. I don’t drive, and it’s a long cab fare.
I’m inPhoenix, and my destination isMiami Beach. A conversation with the travel agent informs me that the trusted train betweenLos Angeles and Florida is no longer in service due to hurricane Katrina. Really? This is 2010 and Hurricane Katrina was in 2005. What happened? Apparently rail travelers fell under the radar as a constituency group. To travel to Miami by train I will have to go east to New Orleans, north to Chicago, east to Philadelphia, and south to Miami‐‐ travel time: five (5) days. Unacceptable. So I check Greyhound. They can get me there in three days, so I book the trip. Understand that I didn’t book this bus trip because I thought it would be a great experience, I only booked it because my alternatives were a tour of America by train or a tour of the Panama canal by ship. In retrospect, a tour of the canal on a tramper would have been a bargain. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The bus ticket from Phoenix to Miami should have been my first clue. There were fourteen separate tickets. Greyhound considers each “leg” an independent part of the journey. Checking my bags in Phoenix, I made sure that everything I needed was in my carry‐on luggage. In retrospect, this was a silly concern, as my checked luggage and I became very good friends over the course of the trip. But again, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Checking my baggage, initially, was no problem. There were no claim checks, which I found odd, but I was assured that the bags were checked through to Miami. Boarding the bus, I was a bit surprised by the drivers’ announcement prior to departure ‐‐ any infringement of the no drinking, no smoking rules would cause the bus to pull over to the shoulder with the expulsion of the offending passenger and a call to the local sheriff. This seemed a bit harsh ‐‐ and I wondered why it even needed to be mentioned. I look around, and I’m reminded of Hobson’s line in the movie Arthur, where he states, “[U]sually one must go to a bowling alley to meet a woman of your stature.”
I’m on my way, warnings noted, hoping for a chance to relax and do some work on the laptop. Having studied all legs of my journey, I’m assured there will be several one‐to‐two hour layovers with charging stations for my cell phone and computer. At our first stop, I notice that departing passengers are identifying their own bags, which the baggage handlers gladly hand over to them. I decide to stand guard. Noticing the number of people who chose Hefty bags as their choice of “luggage,” I rethink my choice of Haliburton. Fourteen stops, and I’ll have to monitor my luggage at every stop ‐‐ because the people providing the “service” will not. This procedure, I’m told by more experienced bus travelers, is normal.
Resigned to monitoring my luggage, I find that the thirty to forty‐five minute stops are not actually shore stops at all; they simply provide me an opportunity to monitor my luggage. The bus generally arrives late, opens their bays (which must be observed), and leaves on time. The actual opportunity provided by a forty‐five minute stop is about five minutes, meaning that’s the time I had to use shore services, often times hauling all of my baggage with me. Understandably, I rarely had a chance to charge any of my electronics.
I hesitate to re‐introduce the “fourteen legs” of the journey. When Greyhound decides it’s time to change “assets”, your baggage becomes your personal responsibility. They change assets on the long layovers. This means that a one‐hour layover is no layover, and you might be able to squeeze twenty‐minutes out of a two‐hour layover. Good luck charging phones or computers.
The journey continues, and on the longer stops I begin to employ a child to monitor my luggage. I learned this in Shreveport, LA with a child who wanted to play video games. I discussed it with his mother, and she was comfortable with me paying her son $5 to monitor my baggage. It was a casual contract. This meant I could leave my electronics on the charger (plugged in behind the video machines), and also that I could eat. I had little choice, and was lucky to have found a diligent and honest child. If you don’t have a companion on a bus trip, I advise quickly finding a trusted travel partner.
I’m not even getting started. What I learned about Greyhound is that passengers are simply excess baggage.
Making the decision again, I would take five days on AMTRAK. I talked to the travel agent several weeks later, and she stated a similar concern shared by one of her new clients. He told her that he found Greyhound services to be unacceptable. He had just recently been released from prison. I liked the guy already.